FAQ About Family Homelessness

What is the difference between family homelessness and the people you see sleeping in public places or outdoors?

When people hear the word “homeless” they often think of a man living on the street, many times with substance abuse or mental health issues. This is the image of chronic homelessness, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months), and has a disability.

Family homelessness on the other hand, consists of at least one parent with a child under the age of 18, most commonly a young, single mother with limited education. Homeless families are more likely to live in shelter, hotels/motels, or doubled up with other families, rather than on the street. Their homelessness tends to be the result of situational poverty created by an event or temporary condition (domestic violence, job loss, divorce, illness, etc.) or generational poverty. Homeless families have needs and challenges beyond housing to being able to maintain permanent housing (limited education, lack of a work history, substance abuse, etc.).


What does it mean when people refer to the “hidden homeless”?

The most visible form of homelessness is a chronically homeless individual living on the street, however, many families go about their lives, attending school or work, without anyone realizing they are experiencing homelessness. Many of these families are living doubled up with friends or family, rather than in shelters or on the street, making them difficult to count. They are the hidden homeless.


How many children are homeless nationwide?

There are nearly 1.3 million students experiencing homelessness nationwide. That does not include children who are not yet school-aged.

This statistic includes children living doubled up, and is based on the U.S. Department of Education data.


Do you have data on homeless unaccompanied youth?

The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness focuses solely the impact of homelessness on children under the age of 18 living with their families.


What does doubled up mean and why is it considered homeless?

“Doubled up” refers to an individual or family who is unable to maintain independent housing and is forced to stay with friends or family members, often in overcrowded conditions.

Children living doubled up may be at even greater risk for instability and its harmful effects on education when compared to their peers in shelter. For example, in New York City, students living doubled up graduated from high school at lower rates than those living in shelter for some or all of high school. Living doubled up comes with the uncertainty of frequent moves, which often necessitate transferring schools,  and not knowing when your welcome might be overstayed. In New York City, doubled-up students make up more than half of all homeless students.


Why are ICPH’s numbers for homeless New York City students so much higher than the Department of Homeless Services (DHS)?

ICPH adheres to the federal McKinney-Vento Act definition of homelessness, which includes students living doubled up. DHS uses different criteria for homelessness.


Does ICPH’s data on homelessness in New York City schools include charter schools?

ICPH’s data on homelessness in New York City schools is specific to homeless students attending New York City Department of Education Public Schools and should not be generalized to New York City Charter Schools. While the total number of homeless charter school students is reported to the State annually, more detailed information on the outcomes of homeless students attending charter schools is not publicly available.


What is the McKinney-Vento Act?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness. It ensures the enrollment and educational stability of homeless children.

The McKinney-Vento Act ensures homeless children transportation to and from school free of charge; allows children to attend their school of origin (the school they attended when they first became homeless); requires schools to register children even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residence; requires states to designate a statewide homeless coordinator to review policies and create procedures; and requires local school districts to appoint Education Liaisons to ensure that school staff are aware of these rights, to provide public notice to homeless families, and to facilitate access to school and transportation services.

The McKinney-Vento Act also defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; sleeping in a residence not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches); or living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, etc.


What is Rapid Rehousing/Housing First?

Housing First is an approach to quickly provide chronically homeless individuals with housing.

Rapid rehousing is an intervention based on the Housing First approach that rapidly moves families, who are temporarily experiencing homelessness, into housing, ideally within 30 days of entering shelter.

These programs provide short-term financial assistance without requiring conditions for eligibility (sobriety, employment, etc.) or participation in supportive services.


What is “right to shelter”?

The “right to shelter” mandate requires that a municipality or local government must provide temporary emergency shelter to every man, woman, and child who is eligible for services, every night. New York City and the state of Massachusetts are among those that have “right to shelter” mandates.